Surgical Errors Make Surgeons Less Likely to Support Letting Go

Friday September 14, 2012

Physicians are, first and foremost, human. And this humanity allows them to stay motivated, to grant their patients compassion and concern, to grow in their profession and to make potentially devastating mistakes. A new study indicates that when a physician’s better angels are influenced by the impact of their mistakes, a patient’s final wishes may be affected.

This study, which was published this summer in the Annals of Surgery, focused on the results of a survey targeting nearly a thousand neurosurgeons, vascular surgeons and cardiothoracic surgeons focused on high-risk cases. In this survey, almost two-thirds of the physicians indicated that following surgical errors, they are far less willing to honor the wishes of a patient’s family to end life support.

The survey is a bit challenging to analyze, given that surgeons were asked to react to specific, hypothetical scenarios involving surgical patients and life support requests. But overall, surgeons were often opposed to withdrawing life support following complications in surgery and were almost twice as likely to object to a family’s request to withdraw life support if the hypothetical scenario involved a surgical error.

According to American Medical News, the study highlights the reality that many high-risk surgeons “feel responsible for their patients’ welfare and want to see them pull through after high-risk procedures.” Specifically, the three most significant motivating factors behind this trend were concern that patients and loved ones cannot accurately predict or appreciate future health status, optimism tied to a patient’s future health and quality of life and personal views regarding mortality in given scenarios.

Regardless of what else this study reveals, the fact that physicians seem overwhelmingly invested in patient outcomes is a positive step for patient safety and quality of patient care.

Source: American Medical News “Surgeons balk at withdrawing life support after medical errors,” Kevin B. O’Reilly, July 31, 2012

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